Start as You Mean to Go On


Jamie and I got married in February so we could go somewhere hot for our honeymoon. I don’t remember any of Jamie’s suggestions, but I was holding out for Hawaii. As a little girl I had been addicted to the televised exoticism of Hawaiian Eye and Hawaii Five O, but after visiting the islands with my parents a few years before I was completely seduced by the warm sand, the clear water, the waving palms, and the relaxed atmosphere so we booked three weeks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach.

Our wedding was fantastic but the reception was interminable. No one wanted to go home. The band kept playing so the guests kept dancing for two hours longer than my dad had presumed people would desire to linger.  Since we weren’t leaving for Hawaii until early the next afternoon we had no excuse to leave, so we stayed and stayed.

When we finally made it to our hotel, we no longer resembled the shiny top-of-the-wedding-cake bride and groom we had been that morning. It had flurried and the dampness had made my hair curl weirdly; I had raccoon eyes. The eight-foot train of my elaborate Victorian gown had long since snapped the satin buttons meant to contain it and it crawled after me like bedraggled and recalcitrant swan as I staggered from the limousine. Jamie’s tie and cummerbund were crumpled and stuffed in his jacket pockets; his shirttails billowed behind him like a sail in the winter wind as he accepted the congratulations of the doorman. We looked exactly like what we were – exhausted newlyweds.

The desk clerk took one look at our disheveled appearance and nudged her manager. Seeing this I panicked, thinking momentarily that I hadn’t actually made the wedding night reservation; perhaps I had only imagined that I had. Oh, shit. Oh, please don’t let me have forgotten to make the reservation, I prayed silently; I just cannot face going outside to hail a taxi then driving to my parents’ house for our wedding night.

It turned out that I hadn’t forgotten, however, neither had I informed the hotel that the room was for our wedding night. The desk clerk was surprised to see us and wanted to upgrade us; the manager agreed. The nattily dressed bellman led us to the Secretary of State Suite, which took up most of one of the top floors of the hotel. It was breathtaking, decorated in muted blues and creamy beiges, and with more rooms than our Upper West Side apartment. Sinking into the plush pile of the carpet and staring through the glass wall at the view of the entire city twinkling beneath us, I rather thought I might like to honeymoon there. As lovely as the suite was, though, we didn’t get to enjoy it long past our room service breakfast, as my parents were coming to take away the formal clothes and drive us to the airport.

The flight was long but mostly uneventful; I had never flown First Class before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were a few more honeymooning good wishes (the crew presented us with a bottle of champagne upon disembarkation) and then we watched movies and dozed. It was early evening when we landed at the open-air Honolulu International Airport and immediately upon reaching the baggage claim felt the sultry island atmosphere.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. I had chosen the historic Royal Hawaiian on Kalakaua Avenue specially because it aligned perfectly with my romantic image of Hawaiian honeymoons and it had ever since I had first seen it in From Here to Eternity. It was one of the oldest hotels on the island, a huge pink stucco structure built by Matson Lines in the Moorish style; it had acres of landscaped grounds, a garden, a pool, the Cazimero Brothers performing in the dining room, and that world famous beach just outside.

I grabbed my tote bag and scrambled out of the taxi as soon as we pulled under the porte cochere. While Jamie and the doorman handled the luggage I entered the open, airy lobby. I was so thrilled to be there I was practically vibrating. Although it was still early evening, the time change coupled with the excitement of the past twenty-four hours was making me quivery.

Jamie and I held hands in the elevator as we followed the bellman to our spacious room in the original section of the hotel. After the bellman left I snapped off the air conditioning and swung open the balcony doors, then threw myself on the king-sized bed and gazed outside. The azure waves weren’t crashing but lapping gently at the nearly-empty sand and glittering in the fading gold and pink light of the setting sun. King palms swayed gently in the slight evening breeze. Musicians were playing soft island music in the barefoot beach bar under and slightly to the left of our window. It was an abrupt change from polar New York. In minutes I was asleep.

Jamie, however, was unpacking. He has never been able to enter a hotel room, toss the suitcases on the bench and relax. Or go out. Somehow he finds it impossible to do anything except unpack. It must be some deep-seated neurosis because it is the same thing he does with the groceries when we return laden with bags from the supermarket.

He woke me when he was done. “You hungry?”

I pushed my hair from my forehead and yawned. “Yeah, sort of.”

“Do you want dinner?”

“Mmmmmm, yeah, but not a lot,” I had eaten quite a bit on the plane. I glanced out the window at the sky; it was a deep grey darkening to velvety midnight blue. “ Do you want to just get room service?”

Jamie thought for a moment. “No, but I am too tired to shower and change for the dining room. Do you want to go for a walk and see what we see?”

“Sure.” I rose from the bed and turned toward the spotless dresser in the immaculate room. There was no sign that there had ever been luggage here. “Where are my shorts?”

We exited the hotel and turned right onto Kalakaua Avenue. The stores were closing and the sidewalks weren’t as busy as they would be during the day. We wandered along the street front and past the one hundred year old banyan tree anchoring the International Market, peering into darkened shop windows and hearing snatches of music from restaurants and bars. After about a half hour the events of the week began catching up to us and we were both exhausted. Having reached the end of the byzantine Market path we turned to face each other.

“Anything in here interest you?” I asked.

Jamie shook his head. “Not really. Not for dinner, anyway. That cinnamon bun place smelled great, though, didn’t it?”

I laughed. “Yeah, but not for dinner.”

“It can’t be; it’s closed. I’ll stop by early tomorrow morning. You’ll still be asleep.” His voice sounded hopeful in the dim tiki torchlight.

I pulled his hand. “Come on. We’ll worry about that tomorrow. I want to eat something light soon or I will chew up the pillow in the middle of the night.”

We wandered back through the Market and crossed the street, then entered a small open-air shopping center near a huge fountain in front of a Borders Books. Jamie thought it might be a short cut. Everything was locked and dark except for a rectangle of light at the far end of the plaza, so we followed that. Reaching it we saw that it was a small old-fashioned coffee shop called The Princess Kauilani. We both smiled simultaneously and looked at each other.

“Here?” Jamie gestured with his left hand, the hand that was holding my right one.

“Sure. Why not?”

“You don’t want something fancier for the first dinner of our married life?”

I thought. “Technically last night was the first night of our married life and we had a pretty fancy dinner at the country club. Are you sure you don’t want something fancier on the first night of our honeymoon?”

“No. But I am not the sentimental one.”

I grimaced. “Don’t I know that?” I muttered ruefully.

“Come on,” he yanked my hand and reached for the glass door.

So we went in, chose a booth, and had BLTs for dinner on the first night of our married life. And it was perfect.

The British have a saying; ‘Start as you mean to go on.’ So we did. We have had a lot of posh vacations and an even greater number of humble dinners in the past twenty-seven years. And we are still here.

The Garden Cottage

largeNew York City children grow up cautious. Maybe an extra chemical in the air they breathe has altered their DNA; maybe skepticism is dripped into the water supply. Regardless, they expect the worst from every situation.

Jamie and I were both born in New York, the City of Many Locks. Even though I remember the New York in the 1960s and ‘70s – and even the ‘80s – as a lot safer than it seems now, it wasn’t a place where you slept with the front door unlatched. Having windows open in the summer was a requirement, true, but then no one ever expected Spiderman to climb the brick walls, enter the flat, and clear out its valuables. So we lived in our Upper West Side apartment with an open-windowed view of Central Park and Tuxedo’s dirty paw prints on the wall under the wide, dusty sills. According to Dr. Frank Field, this particular summer was one of the hottest on record, so the windows were never closed and the paw prints multiplied.

Jamie’s family had close friends who owned an original land grant farm in Cape Cod, bestowed by George III. He had worked on it for many of his adolescent summers, remembering those days fondly with their temperate days and cool nights. Since I hadn’t seen Massachusetts since age nine and Jamie was certain it would be cooler on the Cape, we thought it would be fun to drive up for a long weekend to escape the July heat.   We arranged for a friend to look after Tux and reserved a room at The Fernbrook Inn, a gorgeous Victorian bed and breakfast in Centerville.

The snag came two days before we planned to leave. We had gone out to dinner and upon exiting the Mitali West Indian restaurant on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village discovered that Jamie’s baby blue Mercedes E class had a new paint job – a thick stripe of Metropolitan Blue running along the entire driver’s side, almost as an accent on top of the assorted scratches and the crushing indentation from tail light to head light. Although he didn’t shriek the profanities I expected him to, it was obvious that he wasn’t happy with the NYPD’s poor driving skills. But what to do about the trip? Should we cancel?

We considered the problem the rest of that night and the next morning. Neither of us wanted to postpone; NYC in July is a tourist-stuffed and aroma-infested city-sauna. A weekend away was tempting, but how would we get there?

Just after lunch, Jamie phoned me at my office with the solution; his business partner, Danny, had recently sold his house in Tuscany and had had the furnishings shipped home and among them was a BMW sedan. We were going to borrow it for the weekend.

He arrived home a few hours later looking disconcerted. I asked what was wrong. It turned out that there are different models of BMWs available in Europe than in the US. Danny had the newest, snazziest model BMW sedan; all of its controls were voice-activated.   It was the early 1990s and I had never before heard of this.

“You mean you talk to it?”


“Wow, that’s cool.” He frowned slightly. “It’s not cool?”

Jamie scratched his chin. “Oh, it’s cool, all right. What’s even cooler is that it talks back.”

“No! Really?”

“Yeah. In Italian.”

“In Italian? You don’t speak Italian,“ I observed.

“No, but Danny does and it’s his car,” he answered.

“Ohhhhhhhhh.” The complication was beginning to sink in. Fluent-in-Italian Danny wasn’t accompanying us. “Do you think we need to speak Italian? I mean, can’t we just fill up the gas tank often and presume that it’s all right?”

Jamie nodded. “We’ll have to. It’s either that or stay home and neither is us wants to do that.”

He was right – neither of us did want that. So the next morning we loaded the car and set off for Cape Cod listening to a new best seller in the CD player. The car had a lot to say but neither of us understood it so we just turned the book louder.

We arrived in early afternoon. The inn was even more beautiful than we had imagined; a Victorian house with a wide, airy porch and spectacular gardens created by Frederick Law Olmstead.  We learned from Brian, one of the owners, that while a sea captain had built it, its owners had also included Dr. Herbert Kalmus, the inventor of Technicolor. Francis Cardinal Spellman, Walt Disney, Gloria Swanson, and several American presidents had vacationed there.

As Brian showed us around, we noticed that it wasn’t very cool; in fact it was nearly as hot as Manhattan. Jamie mentioned that he had spent his adolescent summers on the Cape and it had always had great sleeping weather, cool with a light breeze. Brian nodded. “Usually,” he agreed, “but this has been the hottest summer in seventy-five years.” Jamie and I exchanged glances. “At least there’s an ocean,” I mumbled.

Brian introduced us to his partner, Sal, who had taken our bags to the Garden Cottage. We followed Sal along the pea gravel path to a tiny studio nestled within the embrace of century old trees. It was lovely – with high ceilings, a queen-sized bed, its own bathroom, and airy porch.

“It was a little stuffy in here so I have opened all of the windows for you,” Sal said, opening, then resting, the screen door against his shoulder as he handed Jamie the key to the thick oak door as he turned to leave. “You might want to leave them open. It’s been a scorcher of a summer.”

I pulled a sweatshirt from the beach bag. “Well, I guess I won’t be needing this.”

Jamie shrugged and dug in the suitcase for our swimsuits. Perhaps there would be a cooling breeze at the beach.

Later, after roasting on the beach all afternoon, we returned to the cottage to shower and find a place to eat dinner. As Jamie opened the thick door a blast of heat attacked us like from a furnace in a steel mill.

“Holy cow, it’s still like an oven in here,” I said as I dropped the beach bag.

“We’ll leave the door open when we go out for dinner,” Jamie said turning to enter the bathroom.

“We can’t!” I exclaimed, appalled.

He turned, surprised. “Why not?”

“It’s not safe. It’s like asking someone to rob us.”

“Don’t be silly. We are twenty feet from the main house in a private garden in Centerville, Massachusetts, not pitching a tent in Central Park. And we don’t have anything valuable with us anyway.” I wasn’t convinced, so when he left to put gas in the chatty Italian car, I snapped the door locked and moseyed along the path to meet him in front of the house.

It was nearly midnight when we pulled into the inn’s driveway after dinner but it felt as hot as midday in Studio City. The same blast of hot air met us as I opened the cottage door. “I thought we were going to leave the door open,” Jamie said as we entered.

“You went for gas and I forgot,” I lied. Did he think I was nuts?

“Well, we can leave it open now,” he said pulling back the white sheets and reaching for the remote control.

“You mean all night?” I squeaked.

“Sure, why not?”

“Uh, burglars, rapists, murderers, the usual suspects,” I replied snarkily.

Jamie stared. “What are you talking about? You aren’t in New York; you are in Cape Cod. It’s very safe. It’s also incredibly hot, so, please, please do not close that door. Just lock the screen door.”

Reluctantly, I agreed and crossed the room to the door. I looked at the screen door. No lock marred its smooth painted wood surface. I turned. “There is no lock,” I said.

“Sure there is; I can see it from here.”

“You mean this? This little hook and eye?” I swung the curved metal latch with my index finger. “Tux could break this.”

“What were you expecting? The door’s too thin for a Medeco dead bolt.”

“So? They have never heard of chain locks up here?”

“It’s a low crime area.”

“Humph. No place is low crime if doors are left open and everyone’s vying to be robbed. The burglars’ only dilemma is where to hit tonight.”

“Will you please stop acting like you are vacationing on Fordham Road? They don’t need security gates and dead bolts here.”

“Yeah, well.” I remain unconvinced. I wasn’t a native New Yorker for nothing.

“Yeah, well, I’m going to sleep.” Jamie rolled over and within seconds he was snoring like an asthmatic walrus.

Miffed, I sat on the bed and stared idly at a rerun of Mystery! on PBS. A crime show, great. Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes was solving the mystery of the naval treaty stolen from a Foreign Office clerk. Hmm. Stolen. See? From a place that was properly locked at night; that treaty wasn’t left on a flat surface in an unsecured garden shed in a heat-ravaged coastal town just waiting to be pilfered. I gazed at Jamie sleeping and wanted to poke him awake.

I watched TV the entire night, growing more fearful with every noise I heard. Every call of a night bird became the communication of burglary accomplices. Every padding of paws under the window became a rapist in crepe-soled shoes seeking a victim. Every crunch of gravel was a car thief choosing his prey. Eventually, I nodded off, just as the ink-blue sky began its fade to grey.

Early-rising Jamie awoke with the summer sun, leaping from bed just as the robins began their dawn serenade. Grumbling I pulled the covers over my head.   “Come on,” he prodded. “Let’s go see what Sal is making for breakfast.”

“Can’t we see what Sal is making for lunch?” I grumbled.

“No lunch. B & B, you know.”

I peered out over the scalloped edge of the sheet. Jamie frowned. “What is wrong with you? Your eyes are all bloodshot. You look like you just got in after one of your grad school pub crawls.”

I scowled. I hadn’t crawled the pubs all that much at Trinity, Oxford as I completed my Masters degree; Jamie just thought I had based on who my friends and classmates were. Self-righteousness swelled within me. After all, I had stayed awake all night guarding our safety, while he slept completely unawares, snoring like a grizzly bear with post-nasal drip, and if I had felt better I would have told him so.

Truthfully, I felt like a wrung-out dishrag. Jamie could see that. He brought me a brimming mug of coffee from the dining room and held it under my nose. Eventually the scent of what my grandfather called “the hot, black elixir of life” revived me and I made it to the breakfast table where all of the other guests sat chatting brightly. No one else appeared concerned about Centerville’s propensity for nocturnal crime. Frankly, I was too tired to care about it anymore, as well. I spent the entire day dozing on the beach.When we returned to the garden cottage from dinner that night, I decided that while the hook and eye might be – was – flimsy, Brian and Sal had owned this place for years and had never had a break in; that had to count for something. I flipped the latch and got into bed. Que sera sera, as Doris Day so often sang. I imagined I’d be alive and intact in the morning. And if I was, I planned to find a Borders books; I still needed to buy an Italian-English dictionary to figure out what the car was trying to tell us before we drove back to New York.

Rain at the Beach, 1967


When I was a child I spent dove-colored afternoons with my sister, sitting by her side at the kitchen table,
scrubbing Crayola colors onto the pages of a book,
careful to stay within the black lines as I made Underdog’s ears scarlet and Sweet Polly’s dress violet.

Fighting over the periwinkle,
we tore the paper wrappers to insert the nubby tips into the sharpener (“built in!”) on the back of the 64 color box.

My mother sat nearby on the scratchy brown couch,
with her legs propped on the coffee table.
Steam curled from the cup near her feet,
the fruity scent of Constant Comment filling the air as she read or poked a needle through canvas in the dim summer light.

My father snored in his leather recliner,
open book balanced on his ample stomach,
fighting World War II again in his dreams,
As the rain shushed onto the roof and puddled on the porch,
splotched the red Delta 88 convertible in the driveway,
and trickled silently into the sand.